Have you ever looked at rainwater running into a storm drain on the street and wondered about the pollutants it might be gathering as it flows? A recent case from California which came before the Supreme Court has some ramifications for cities nationwide.
The case began several years ago, when environmental groups noticed that stormwater runoff entering the San Gabriel and Los Angeles rivers was carrying pollutants. The Los Angeles County Flood Control District holds a permit which allows it to direct rainwater into these protected rivers, and this permit states that the runoff must meet cleanliness standards set by the Clean Water Act.
The Ninth District Court ruled that the LA Flood District had indeed been negligent in allowing polluted stormwater to enter the rivers. However, the Supreme Court reversed this ruling because it noted that the monitoring stations were both downriver from storm drain outlets, where water was merely being channeled from one section of river to another. The drainage system of the county is so vast and complex that, in the absence of more precise monitoring, it was impossible to say exactly where the pollution was introduced.
During winter storms, many cities in Georgia may wonder if they'll be held liable for pollutants passing through their storm drains. Most likely the answer will depend on the accuracy of their efforts to monitor these pollutants: The Supreme Court judges did point out that renewing LA County's stormwater permit in the future may involve establishing better systems of monitoring.
Our law firm handles environmental cases related to the Clean Water Act, stormwater and overall water pollution matters.
Source: Los Angeles Times, "Supreme Court throws out L.A. County storm water lawsuit," David Savage, Jan. 8, 2013